Behind the Scenes of Freedom Summer

The Civil Rights Movement grew and developed strength over the course of Freedom Summer 1964. On this 50th Anniversary year, we are all being re-acquainted with our history as many books, articles and films bring the subject to life. My family became an integral part of this story. I’d like to contribute my recollections and also invite others who were there to share their stories.

I was 17 years old when my brother Andy went to Mississippi as part of Freedom Summer 1964. Along with approximately 900 other young volunteers, Andy traveled to the Miami University in Ohio after his junior year at Queens College for non-violent training. Here, he and his companions were taught how to endure racist slurs and, even, body blows. My parents, who taught us to respect human rights and Democratic values, reluctantly agreed to let him go.  My mom even snuck some Band-Aids and disinfectant into his suitcase. We never imagined he would lose his life.

Things being what they were in Mississippi in 1964, death for those who opposed the status quo was a distinct possibility. After Andy, James and Mickey disappeared on June 21, 1964, President Johnson ordered one of the largest manhunts in the history of the United States. 44 days later, their bodies were found by the FBI and nine other “missing” bodies that had likewise met violent ends were discovered in Mississippi. They were all black.  The murder of two white northerners, however, made headlines across the country. It is a sad commentary on our national character that two white young men had to be killed for the rest of the nation to pay attention, but the murders of James, Mickey and Andy shook the country and fast tracked the inevitable march toward human and civil rights that culminated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Recently, my wife and I met with Rachel Robinson at a Jackie Robinson Foundation event. All the guests received Rachel’s book, “Jackie Robinson, An Intimate Portrait,” and in it, I found this picture of my parents (see above). Many people do not know that Jackie Robinson and his wife Rachel played an important role in supporting the Civil Rights movement.

In 1963, when the movement was entering a violent period in the Southeastern United States and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was repeatedly thrown in jail, the Robinsons hosted what would become an annual Jazz festival at their Connecticut home as a fundraiser. They charged their guests and that first year, donated all proceeds to Dr. Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In 1964, they gave the proceeds to support Freedom Summer.

The Robinson Jazz festival was run by Marian Logan, a close friend of the Robinsons’ and my family. Marian was a jazz singer, a social activist, and the only Northern Board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She also lived only a couple of blocks away from us and the Robinsons in New York City with her husband, Dr. Arthur Logan, a famous MD who was associated with the medial network of NYC including Harlem.

I was at the Robinson’s jazz event in 1964, but not pictured. Nor did I have the opportunity to hear what Jackie was saying to my parents. This was a difficult time for my family, as we all suspected what had happened; this is evident from the grief and strain in my parent’s faces. But, until we heard for sure, our family continued to hope.

About the Author: David Goodman is the brother of Andrew Goodman and the President of The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its Board of Trustees.